Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Scalia Story

         A dozen or so years ago, the Cleveland Bar Association started a great program that sent lawyers into inner city classrooms to teach kids about The Constitution.  It was a fitting compliment to my work defending the poor, and a welcome departure from often depressing role as advocate for the criminally accused in a crowded, chaotic court system.  Of course, inner-city schools in Cleveland have their own crowded, chaotic problems, but I was eager to see if I could spark the students' interest in the law as a haven, rather than a hammer.

        I was assigned to JFK High School, a school with a rougher reputation than most. The student body was all black, all poor, and their familiarity with the criminal justice system was haunting:  moms and dads arrested, incarcerated, churned through the courts at an alarming rate.  But most of the kids I taught were eager and respectful as I tried to educate them about their constitutional rights, and the mechanics of the criminal justice system.

       Early on in the series of my weekly appearances for the class, I made a deal with them.  If, for the final session, anyone accurately memorized and recited the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, I'd give them twenty bucks.  I added that those who took the bet would have to "dress professionally, like a lawyer" for their recitation.

     When the final session arrived, I had a couple hundred bucks in my pocket, just in case.  Ultimately, it was the best $60 I've ever spent, to this day.  The three who tried and succeeded looked more like they were dressed for junior prom than court, but I was moved by their effort, and hearing them eagerly, clearly recite the words from The Bill of Rights interrupted my composure.

     Later, I would learn that this preposterous stunt of mine gained legs.  The bar association programmers found out, and decided to incorporate a "public performance" component to the project.  The following year, two girls who took my $20 bucks would be invited to a luncheon at Cleveland's Intercontinental Hotel to sit at a table with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

     I imagine a conversation occurred, in which the Honorable man, knifing his chicken and green beans, asked what notoriety gained them their auspicious seating. Perhaps, mid swallow, one of the girls informed him:  "Mr. Hurley paid us twenty bucks to memorize the Fourth Amendment."